The Consequences of Mental Fatigue in a Slow-Burning Crisis

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In this article, I’ll introduce you to one effect of mental fatigue known by my Nan as the P.L.O.M.S. In some situations, this can have serious consequences. Taking action and making decisions is key in keeping your group or family unit safe and secure. Fatigue management is one of the most neglected preps.
Mental fatigue is especially present in a slow-burning crisis like the one we’re dealing with right now. The isolation, increased financial problems, and stress of this pandemic and the response to it have caused quite a lot of people to struggle with their mental health and well-being.

Selco and I hold ourselves to what we refer to as the triple-A standard on the information we share. What is the triple-A standard? Accessible, Affordable, and Actionable. We strive for that with everything we do. Selco and I both believe there’s always something you can do to improve your chances of a better outcome.  

A story of my Nan and how she taught me about the “P.L.O.M.S.”

Not plums, the nice, juicy fruit that you enjoy. P.L.O.M.S

I was introduced to the concept of P.L.O.M.S by my Nan when I was very little. My Nan was of the Second World War fighting generation, as was my Granddad. My Nan stands at 4′ 11″, so I stood head and shoulders above her as a teenager. Still, you did not want to mess with her.

She was the first fierce woman I ever encountered in my life. And she knew how to own a situation. One day, as a sort of slovenly youth of 11 or 12 years old, I moped about something. I remember getting grabbed and pinned up against the wall by this mighty midget.

She said to me, “Don’t you get ploms!”

For my Nan, P.L.O.M.S stood for poor little old me syndrome. And quite simply, in her generation, nothing good could come from feeling sorry for yourself. You either snapped out of it or got slapped out of it. Those are your two escalation levels. Either somebody grabs you and shakes you and says, “Stop it.” Or, if that didn’t work, you’d get a wallop.

Mental fatigue aka P.L.O.M.S. still exists, but the world has moved on

There is an exceptionally more sensitive population now, typically participating in the “Victim Olympics.” There is massive empowerment in being a victim. Therefore, people are very reluctant to move out of that victim dynamic. When they drop into P.L.O.M.S, it’s easy, and dare I say, highly desirable to stay there. The “snap or slap” is no longer effective.

As the fatigue of the pandemic bites, we’re seeing people jaded and frayed. People are struggling and apathetic, and hard to motivate. And that is entirely normal and perfectly understandable. But what that is, is a compromise. It’s a compromise to operational effectiveness. So what you then start to get is people struggling to fulfill fundamental roles due to lack of motivation or self-pity. (ie: the P.L.O.M.S)

We all get overwhelmed during long-term stressful situations – every single one of us. But there are productive ways to manage that overwhelm or you can engage in the Victim Olympics.

The effect of mental fatigue on group dynamics

People massively underestimate group dynamics. Selco and I reference this constantly and even did a webinar about communities with a large focus on personalities. For those of you suffering from fatigue (and maybe the P.L.O.M.S) you have got to start making objective decisions. Otherwise, you will begin to compromise situations. This is particularly true in a group dynamic or family unit. The farther in advance you can manage expectations, the better.

Here is an example:

Let’s say your group starts to run around-the-clock security. Everybody needs to be on guard for 45 minutes to two hours. Each person needs to take their turn. And, in nearly every group situation there is that one person who will make this challenging. You can do your level best to coax that person around and get them on board. However, you might have to decide what is and isn’t going to work. Forcing the issue will only compromise operational effectiveness.

You choose to take that person off duty because you don’t trust their ability to engage properly. As soon as you take that person off duty it sends a clear message to that person. It also sends a clear message to everyone in the group. However, if you force that person to perform security patrols when they are not engaged, there could be a compromise to the group’s security.

The above example may be a bit extreme. Let’s take something as simple as cooking duties. The person who routinely cooks for the group has hit the point they can no longer come up with three meals a day, every day. You might say something as simple as, “Take a day off.” Quite often, all people need is what I refer to as a micro-break and a little taste of normalcy. After a bit of pressure release, they bounce back and get back on board.

In either situation, it’s time for a judgment call. A solution is needed.

Every one of us is susceptible to the Poor Little Old Me Syndrome

The vast majority of us do not have a military-trained force clustered around us. And even if we did, that doesn’t exempt us from these problems. Not all military branches are created equally, not all service standards are created equally, not all individuals are created equally. We will tire, will will become fatigued and we will struggle. We may even indulge in some self-pity that would cause Nan to smack us.

Ask yourself: “What are the situations I can push, manage, improve and grow?” Then develop a model to negotiate across the entire group or family unit. (Remember, even if the group is accepting of those decisions, there will be consequences.)

Knowing when it’s time to make objective decisions is often overlooked. When everybody’s tired, fatigued, and struggling, and one person is struggling more than the others, the situation can become dangerous. Catching these issues early on and managing them is crucial. If you feel you don’t have the management skills needed, make sure someone in your group does. Allocate that position to the person who is capable of this type of group management.

Have you (or someone in your group) been struggling with mental fatigue?

Are you dealing with mental fatigue right now? I strongly suspect family units and large groups are tired and fatigued. Know that it is quite common. Many of you may think it’s just you, but it’s not. There are many others who are overwhelmed with it all and have indeed got a case of the P.L.O.M.S. Please share your stories in the comments. Let’s reassure each other that we are not alone. 

About Toby

Toby Cowern has an extensive background in the military, emergency services, risk management, and business continuity, combined with applied wilderness and urban survival skills. He discusses personal safety, security, and the crossover of military skills to the average civilian.

The Consequences of Mental Fatigue in a Slow-Burning Crisis
Toby Cowern

Toby Cowern

Toby Cowern has an extensive background in the military, emergency services, risk management, and business continuity, combined with applied wilderness and urban survival skills. He discusses personal safety, security, and the crossover of military skills to the average civilian.

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  • In my careers we suffer from it all the time. A reset is called for often. Regardless of the leader/follower situation everyone MUST speak up when they see the signs. A good boss will respect it and a bad one will hold a grudge but either way it must be stated and dealt with because the effects are far worse. Followers shouldn’t take it personally either. It’s not a mark on character.

    A sense of humor is all but required and often it is off color by civilized standards because what we do is outta the norm.

    The fix can be anything from a whole nights sleep to time off to getting laid. Try to avoid chemical routes as they can become addictive and no one is as effective when they are dependent.

    Folks often say they are a rock, a pillar etc. well they’ve all got cracks no matter how hard you polish them.

    The bottom line is take care of one another.

  • “ Selco and I both believe there’s always something you can do to improve your chances of a better outcome. “

    That’s it, the spirit and the mentality, in one phrase. The only thing we have any control over.

    Excellent article Toby, thanks.

  • Toby,
    First, your Nan sounds like a great woman!
    Second, today, she would be slapping a whole lot of people in the Victim Olympics. Great term, going to use that one in the future.
    Third, in boot camp we had “fire watch.” From lights out to 0600, two recruits would walk around the squad bay for one hour. At 45 minutes, they would wake the next “watch.” We had one recruit who was not a morning person, and would get down right belligerent at having to get up and do his turn. The squad leaders “adjusted” his attitude.

    Having been in leadership positions, it was my duty to monitor not only the physical security of my Marines, but also their mental security. Someone gets into a funk over a relationship, keep an eye on them, pull them aside to talk to them, and if necessary recommend they talk to someone of the religious type if they are so inclined or even professional psychological help. Sometimes it just took letting them know we, the whole platoon, had their back.

    Then there is always, what we in the Marines call, that 10%. The trouble maker, screw up. The guy who thinks he is funny, but is not. The one who always has a snide comment that underminds leadership or group morale. Or a member of the Victim Olympics.

      • I dont think you will find a number of those who post to this board competing in the Victim Olympics and deserving medal or a slap from Nan to get out.

  • Having been trained both as an Operating Room R.N. and a Clergyman, I have seen my share of horror, but not on the scale of some others here. As Matt said, a good sense of humor helps. What I always told myself is ,” Forget the pressure/fear and get the job done! “.

    You have no idea how fearful it is to be the only R.N. in an emergency, when a life is at stake. I suppose the same for a LEO or a Marine too.

    Living here in Florida, with Hurricanes, helps to make One able to handle a SHTF event too.

  • Good article . Mental preparedness for SHTF includes knowing how to deal with this.
    Personally, some people are more inclined to fall into a slump or pity party mentality, than others.
    It is extremely rare for me to allow myself to fall into that state. Self correction, if I see myself headed that way, is what works for me.
    I think this will be a large cause of death during a extended SHTF, (TEOWAWKI) event. People will just “give up”. Some people on some of the forums that I am on, have that attitude already.
    The ” I would not want to try to live in a world like that” or the “I won’t survive”, or “I’ll just wait to die” crowd.
    The “Pity me/ victim mentality”, can be cause by Fear.
    Fear can make you have trouble coping with what is happening around you. Often it results in paralysis, but it can also trigger the Pity me syndrome.
    So whether it is the daily grind or a problem based in Fear, it needs dealt with right away.

  • Great article and I love your Nan.
    I have a question about what you refer to as a micro-break and a little taste of normalcy in order to release pressure.
    Having suffered from severe physical, mental, psychological and spiritual burnout in years gone by I know sometimes a day off, a good nights sleep or even, as one commenter suggested, getting laid is not enough.
    I’d love to hear your specific suggestions on activities that you’ve seen effective or that Selco was able to implement in his austere and dangerous times.

    • You need to have time for yourself, time for you only.

      In my hard times it was connected to two things

      1. (short) Feeling of “normal” which usually meant spending some time alone with some “treat” that was almost impossible to get. In that time those items were things like beer, chocolate, cigarette, some special food or similar. By that I connected myself with feeling “normal” in not normal time for short period of time, and it was good mental help.

      2. Adopting (in my case) philosophy that I can do only certain amount of certain effort, and everything else is outside of my power. Based on your personal settings that “power” can be lot of things.God, destiny, luck, or all that together. I mentally lived day by day, without looking too much in distance, because between my “place” in that moment and that happy and normal time in distance was abyss of horrible things, so if i stare mentally in distance too often (in hope of getting to that normal time and place in distance) i would fall in abyss I strongly believe. So, I mentally cope day by day…you could compare it with walking over the huge desert and you see far away in distance green hills, where is water… if you look too often in those green hills you simply realise that it is too far, and you could never make it because you “know” it is just too far for your strength…BUT instead of that i simply walk hour by hour day by day, mentally, without too much hope.

      Hope sounds great in movies and books, but too much hope can burn you completely, destroy you, especially in prolonged SHTF event.

      Now, in let s say more normal and peaceful times i found out that being alone in nature, woods, with running water give me time and energy to solve some things alone with myself.
      For me it is does not have to be some activity in nature, it can be spending time with nature without people, just being there.

      It is what works for me.

    • Thanks for the question ML. In essence you have answered your own question. “Having suffered from severe….burnout”. Notice the underlying and explicit theme of this article is EARLY recognition and EARLY action towards addressing the issues. As an analogy, you can have the oil warning light come on on the dashboard of your car, and decided to swiftly head to the garage and address the problem. It may be an oil top up is all that is needed, or an oil and filter change. Both relatively cheap, quick and inexpensive repairs.

      Or…

      You can ignore the light and drive on until the engine seizes. (Allow mild tensions to proceed to sever burnout) Now you have at best an engine overhaul at worse a ‘write off’ (The repair would cost more than the vehicle is worth) and scrap the vehicle…

      Severe breakout/burnout is a latent and accumulative process with many MANY observable signs. It is not something that happens overnight. EARLY intervention using micro-breaks, brief re-rolling, AND identifying / remedying of the underlying cause will have a very high success rate. Ignoring (or missing) the early signs and allowing significant deterioration means interventions and recovery will take much MUCH longer, to the extent full ‘recovery’ may actually never be achieved (Thats a whole other subject drifting towards Post traumatic Growth, but thats for another day)

      NOW, here’s the kicker. In everyday life, and quadruple so in increasing pressure situation’s communication of concern NEEDS to work in both ways:

      Group leaders need to be actively looking for and addressing concerns / problems.
      People struggling NEED to voice there concerns.
      Other group members need to have the confidence to escalate concerns and/or point out issues

      Telepathy is beyond the reach of most. The ‘silent treatment’ helps no-one. Being clearly asked ‘whats wrong?’ and stoically hiding the problem makes for liabilities. Dear reader, please don’t make the mistake of inserting a ‘flippant tone’ being implied on this comment, nothing could be further from the truth.

      I’m aware some folks reading this will then highlight, ‘but even if I say something is wrong, the person I’m telling doesn’t care/won’t act.’ Well, again, sadly, you’ve just answered your own question…

      Typing in answer in a message box is there epitome of oversimplification of this (all too often) complicated issue, this article is aimed at highlighting the problem, more than offering all the solutions (of which there are many and very effective) but a simple summary is ‘(Mis)Communication is often the heart of the problem’.

      This is where the ‘nuance of Nan’ really comes in. By ‘calling you out’ on your PLOMS, you have two choices. Deny it, and be expected to act right, or admit there is a problem and then begin dealing with it. All too often in this day and age folks are just not willing to explicitly and directly address behaviors. Herein lies a big part of the (leaving it to fester) problem.

      I’m not sure if this helps? I know it doesn’t specifically answer your question, but I do hope it rounds out the points I’m trying to raise to a level of acceptable reference…

      • You are absolutely ???? % correct that the early signs were there for me personally: irritability, withdrawal, drinking more heavily, etc but I had neither the knowledge nor the means at the time to address it, thus came the total burnout with horrendous health issues down the line.
        Now I know better and diligently guard my health, both mental and physical particularly during this ‘slow burn’ situation and
        both my husband and myself have learned and are still learning how to recognize our individual signs of fatigue.
        Truth is, we can enjoy ‘tired’ because it usually means we’ve accomplished something substantial, but burnout is a whole different animal. Thanks for your article, your response and your wisdom. I’m sure their are many people needing to check their engine light atm.

  • A comment on Toby’s the “cook” comment.

    I do the majority of the cooking in our household. When I was poor, I had to make do with a limited spice cabinet, cheap cuts of beef or chicken, and what can I do with rice or pasta?
    Since then I have gotten my game better to the point friends say our place is their favorite restaurant to go to or have suggested I open my own place (pre-CV19)
    BUT! The wife steps in to give me a break, so I can sit and relax while she makes dinner. Her Caesar salad is the most excellent.
    Point is, rotate the chores or duty assignments so no one person doing the thing all the time every time. Granted, you will have your experts, but even they deserve a break every now and again.

    Side note, I know some will say it is a extra expense or weight add for a BOB, but a deck of cards is a good investment for entertainment, diversion, and even team building.
    I recommend the KA-BAR playing cards.

    • I keep some travel games in my bug out bag along with cards and some dice. Chess, checkers, backgammon, snakes and ladders, etc. A gallon ziplock bag of something to take minds off of things and relax a bit.

      A bag of my favorite hard candy has a place too. It’s a reward for the end of the day or when I need a bit of a pick up.

  • I have found that if you can accomplish something you’ll feel better and it often motivates you to do more. Just set a small goal and accomplish it. Also make goals, big and small and set out to accomplish them. Develop a “I can ” attitude vs a “I can’t”, as in “How can I…”

  • About the person that is unreliable on watch sometimes flexibility like putting him on s shift in which it does not matter so much like Noon until 5 PM might be a better solution, put someone that is really reliable or a night owl for the night shift where you really need an alert guard. As for the cook problem why is all your food stuff that needs to be cooked? Have food that does not needing cooking or much cooking and have one meal that needs to be cooked saving the stress of it all. In SHTF you never know when you can cook so have a lot of food that does not need such, food you can grow and needs cooking try to wait for less stressful times if possible, also teach some of the others cooking skills, it is not that hard to cook a hamburger or boil an egg.

  • The Walking DEAD is the most basic of suspend belief dramas ever But it is good in how it shows stress at all levels and has many SOULUTIONS to problems in a SHTF world
    Highly recommend it due to its true misstakes in judgement made in the heat of battle of what a world with drug addicts ,BLM antifa an the Poolitical bandits who act like many of the bad guys that will rise to the top due to they have learned to control their madness into controled Violence . another real good suspend belief fiction is
    ONE SECOND AFTER
    the series is three books in all and all are written with well thought out facts many preppers may not have any idea of how you real might have to KILL a human who has stolen drugs or food the group needed or how to fight in a group when no one has a clue and what a true story it maybe in the end book Final DAY we may live out due to what can only be seen as a unstable Idiot is not in charge and a women who many see will become potus is articulated as the bad Guy who brought down the destruction of the USA

  • People can cope with a LOT, for a long time, if they know respite is regularly available.

    But seeing no end in sight is very attritional.

    Don’t wait for someone to become exhausted before giving them a break.

    Schedule breaks so people can look forward to them.

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